Hearing allows us to gather information about the environment around us.
Any sensation of losing part of this important sense is scary, as we can feel cut off from the world around us and leaving us feeling isolated.
But, with approximately 15% of American adults aged 18 and over reporting some trouble hearing, you’re not alone.
This post will cover the process of hearing, how hearing loss is measured, and what to do if you start to think you may be suffering from hearing loss.
How Does Hearing Work
Like all our senses, hearing is something that we just...do. Yet the process for it occurring is a marvel of nature.
Let’s use an example to explain how hearing works: A person’s finger hits the middle C on the piano. From there, the hammers strike the strings which vibrate at a particular frequency.
This is where hearing starts to begin.
Those vibrations cascade through the air, enter your ear canal, and travel until they hit the eardrum.
The vibrations of the eardrum pass through some tiny bones into the cochlea which transfers the energy to the tiny hairs inside your ear called cilia. This sets off a neural impulse which travels along the auditory nerve to the brain.
Finally, your brain then perceives the sound and says “Ah, middle C!” if you are a musician.
Or “Ah, a piano!” if you, like me, are not.
This all happens in a split second as sound travels through the air at a blistering 760mph.
What Causes Hearing Loss to Start?
Despite our perception of it, hearing is a complex process.
Vibrations pass through the air and through multiple different parts of the ear until the information is perceived by the brain and our consciousness.
These parts are usually grouped into three parts: outer, middle, and inner ear. If any one of these parts has damage done to it, it will result in hearing loss.
According to Mayo Clinic , hearing loss is usually categorized into two types based on where the damage is done, conductive (outer or middle ear) or sensorineural (inner ear), or some combination of the two.
Causes of Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss involves issues with sound passing through the outer and middle ear.
This means that the sound itself is muffled, meaning if the source of the sound is made louder, the hearing loss is negated.
Conductive hearing loss can be caused by a malformation of a part of the ear at birth but in many cases, it is caused by a physical blockage of some sort (fluid or wax), or damage to the eardrum.
This means it can be temporary or permanent, depending on the cause which may involve removing the obstruction or repairing damage to the outer or middle ear.
Causes of Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss is an issue with the inner ear. This part of the ear includes the vestibule, cochlea, and semicircular canals.
Unlike conductive hearing loss, this is an issue of the sound vibrations not making it from the eardrum to the auditory nerve. Therefore it doesn’t matter how loud the sound is, we will have trouble hearing it.
Some of the causes of this type of hearing loss include:
- Illnesses that affect the inner ear
- Infections in the inner ear
- Side effects from medications toxic to hearing
- Head trauma
- Exposure to extremely loud noises or explosions
The use of hearing aids is a noninvasive solution to compensating for sensorineural hearing loss which can drastically improve your quality of life.
Yet people are hesitant to use hearing aids.
The NIH observed that: “among adults aged 70 and older with hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids, fewer than one in three (30 percent) has ever used them. Even fewer adults aged 20 to 69 (approximately 16 percent) who could benefit from wearing hearing aids have ever used them.”
That’s why Vibe Hearing is dispelling myths around hearing. There are a lot of myths about hearing and hearing loss that we at Vibe Hearing are trying to dispel.
Understanding Different Types of Hearing Loss
The severity of your hearing loss is measured at two points, the low and high.
The low point is how loud something needs to be before you are able to hear it while the high end are frequencies are harder for you to hear.
These frequencies are measured in decibels (or dB). For instance, 40dB may be a quiet conversation whereas a subway car may be 100dB.
Degree of hearing loss is measured by how much of the range in dB you cannot hear.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) characterizes these ranges as follows:
|Degree of Hearing Loss||Hearing loss range (dB HL)|
|Normal||-10 to 15|
|Slight||16 to 25|
|Mild||26 to 40|
|Moderate||41 to 55|
|Moderately Severe||56 to 70|
|Severe||71 to 90|
What To Do if You Think You Have Hearing Loss
Many types of hearing loss are preventable (avoiding loud noises) but some, like aging, are not.
Once you’ve noticed your hearing start to decline, most types of hearing loss will only continue to get worse.
The important thing is not to wait — schedule an appointment with a certified audiologist today or take our online hearing test for free.